As Lakewood made its run to the Class 5A state semifinal in Lakeland this past season, Tianah Alvarado could hardly watch.
She was supposed to be out there with her teammates, playing guard next to Alexis Ungro and setting picks for Shineice Beamon and Kasey Drayton.
Instead, she was at the end of the bench with a big brace on her left knee.
Three weeks into her junior season, Alvarado partially tore ligaments in her knee in a game at Gibbs. A year after averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds, and helping Lakewood win a state championship, her season was over.
“I was sad,’’ Alvarado said this week. “I’d never missed any games before. It was pretty hard to watch. They got pretty far without me. I hated watching.’’
Alvarado had surgery Jan. 13 and was told to stay off the leg for several days. She did not.
Alvarado showed up for the Spartans’ game the next day — big brace, crutches and all.
“Our crowd and the players and the administration were all taken by the fact that she walked into the gym that day,’’ Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said. “She came out there the day after her surgery with just crutches and sat on the bench. It was amazing.
“There were a lot of tears and hugging. The team was feeling her pain because she wasn’t able to be out there.’’
Alvarado took only about a week off before starting exercises to strengthen the knee. She slowly regained her range of motion and began lightly jogging. Then she started dribbling and taking shots.
“We weren’t going to rush her back,’’ Tunsil said. “But trust me, by the time the state tournament rolled around, she was running and doing a lot of things. But she hadn’t been cleared by the doctors yet.’’
There was never any expectation that Alvarado would return during the season. Her goal was to get healthy enough to play with her summer AAU team, the Essence.
Alvarado has played with the Tallahassee-based, Nike-sponsored team three years. This summer, she would be on the purple team, the Essence’s top travel team.
She was finally cleared to play June 11, but she actually played her first tournament with the Essence on June 2 against doctor’s orders.
“She was a knucklehead and played anyway,’’ Tunsil said.
Now cleared and fully healthy, Alvarado is getting ready to play lots of basketball. After returning from a camp at Florida State last week, she will be in West Palm Beach this weekend to practice with her AAU team.
Then she will play in a tournament in Dallas, followed by another in Orlando, then New Orleans and finally Augusta, Ga. If she can get through July with no knee problems, it will be a good indication the injury is behind her.
“I’m still a little timid,’’ said Alvarado, who practices in a brace but plays without one. “I’m cautious. I don’t think about it as much as I used to, but it’s still in the back of my mind.’’
According to Tunsil, Alvarado has gotten interest from the University of Memphis, Charlotte, Seton Hall and Florida International. There have been no official offers, but that could change by the end of July.
“A lot of the other bigger schools are waiting to see how she does on the summer circuit,’’ Tunsil said.
The summer circuit means living out of a suitcase and playing several games in a short period. After what Alvarado has been through the past six months, that sounds pretty good to her.
“This is what I want to do this summer,’’ Alvarado said. “I’m ready to go.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com.